Do the C-suite understand PR?

Chances are that as PR professionals’, your interaction with senior management is limited to coaching on how to talk to the media or on quotes for a story. As PR is seen mostly seen through the prism of media relations, the power and potential of PR as a reputation builder is often not used fully by companies.

Ajay Kakar, CMO of Financial Services for Aditya Birla Group, points out that, “Regrettably, the true and full power of PR is yet not understood or appreciated. It is yet perceived as mere “Press Relations”, the value of which is yet perceived to be as per the actual volume of coverage.”

Veena Gidwani, strategic PR consultant, who has created a workshop for senior managers in association with Northpoint says, “ Senior managements of organisations that understand the power and impact of PR , invest adequately in strategic consulting, time, resources and budgets for PR which gives them outstanding results in image enhancement. However, many organisations that look at PR only from a short term perspective do not reap the benefits that PR could bring. Greater exposure of innovative and successful PR case studies and more speaker opportunities on PR in management conferences could be some ways to address this.”

Speaking about the importance for practicing industry professionals to learn and train about PR, to extract more from their marketing budgets. Sam Balsara CMD at Madison World, said, “Brands who are spending crores of rupees in advertising are under utilizing the power of PR. This is a big mistake. PR can greatly strengthen an expensive media plan and thus help improve ROI of the overall campaign.”

K. Sandeep Nayak,  Executive Director and CEO of Centrum Broking Limited, a mid-sized company in  financial services, says that he believes that PR makes business sense, “PR provides enough ROI and for a financial services brand catering largely to institutional clients and high net worth individuals where advertising would be too costly an affair.”

While there is a learning curve for the suits to break out of the PR equals media mentality, would having the PR function report directly to the CEO make a difference to the quality and scale of a PR campaign?

Veena Gidwani believes that the reporting process depends on the type of PR, “The model of the PR function reporting to CEO and senior management for corporate PR and reputation management and to the marketing head for brand initiatives, works quite well.”

While some would argue that the value of PR and senior management involvement in the process of PR, depends on the situation. Ajay Kakar, points out that, "Very often, the true value of PR is recognised only at the time of a crisis. Whether it is the cola-pesticide problem, the worm infestation Cadbury crisis or the Birla Sun Life use of Yuvraj during the phase that Yuvraj was diagnosed with cancer. These are some of the great and memorable case studies that immediately come to mind.”

Veena Gidwani says that, “In today's highly competitive and cluttered market place, senior leadership needs to understand  that  their organisations and brands  need to engage with customers and not just inform, to bring about behavioural change and build long term relationships.  The growing interplay between corporate reputation and brand preference makes public relations a crucial component of the overall communication strategy."

Gidwani adds that understanding the link between PR and business goals will help companies, “Create holistic PR strategies that synergise corporate reputation management with innovative brand building campaigns on an on-going and sustained basis.”